Of course, of all the truisms one realizes as the years roll by, it’s the “Don’t blink” admonition in that Kenny Chesney song that resonates the most. I think I can safely say on this, the first day of 2020, it seems like months ago when we all had some trepidations about Y2K and argued over whether the millennium actually started on the first day of 2000 or 2001.
And yet, here we are in the first double-digit year since 1919, when a great celebration was still going on because World War I had just ended about seven weeks earlier. As for what 1919 had in store for our forefathers and foremothers, well, it was a sad year for those who liked to imbibe, since Prohibition would begin. And, if you were a fan of the Chicago White Sox, reputed to be the greatest professional team ever assembled, it was time to say to Shoeless Joe and seven of his teammates, “Say it ain’t so, Joe” when it was discovered they hopped into bed with gamblers and threw the World Series.
As we embark on this year, I thought it might be of interest to take a look at where we people were then and where we are now when it comes to two modes of transportation all travel devotees like myself love, autos and airplanes.
As far as automobiles now, the ongoing technological quest is to perfect the autonomous car. Now, advocates of driverless technology will tell you it will increase both safety and reliability, even in congested metro areas with uses extending beyond personal cars to taxis, Ubers, buses, delivery trucks and construction vehicles.
However, there continues to be those incidents that give even the most optimistic supporters pause, such as that woman fatally struck and killed by an autonomous car while riding a bike in Tempe, Arizona, in 2018.
Now, looking back to 1919, as far as automobiles, the car industry was still trying to ramp up after production was slowed by the war. The big news was the introduction of the four-cylinder engine, and with that, came promises of 20 miles per gallon and a top-end speed of 70 miles per hour. Putting the latter in perspective, that year’s Indy 500 winner, Howdy Wilcox, had an average speed of just a little over 18 miles an hour faster.
As far as purchasable street models, well, there were some Kings and Peerlesses to be had among others, but the most popular and reliable continued to be Henry Ford’s Model T. Of course, all were painted black, since Ford discovered black paint dried faster, thereby speeding up assembly to meet demand. Now, if we were planted in 1919 instead of 2020, we’d be expected to pay a little over $500 for a three-door, five-passenger Model T.
As far as what is and was going on above our noggins, nowadays, you can pretty much fly commercially anywhere in the world, but there are also those who envision space tourism in the very foreseeable future. Billionaire Richard Branson vowed last July his space tourism unit Virgin Galactic will soon begin taking thousands of tourists into space. He’s been joined in that quest by fellow billionaires Elon Musk, who is working on his own space-propulsion unit called SpaceX, and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, who also has some skin in the space game with his now-in-development Blue Origin. Of course, there is one space rub. Projected prices on tickets with be $100,000-plus per, so I don’t think all of us will manage to find the discretionary income to start packing our duffel bags.
In looking back to 1919, above our ancestors’ heads were the very first routes of commercial airlines. The planes were mostly piloted by returning World War I pilots who gave so many their very first plane rides. These planes were classified as flying boats, and none could carry more than 16 passengers safely.
In such an embryonic phase, there weren’t all that many routes. However, there was the Aero Limited, which flew from New York to Atlantic City. American Trans Oceanic flew between Miami and Bimini, a British Island. Chaplin Air Lines briefly flew Curtis MF flying boats between LA and Catalina Island. Also, Mercury Airline, started by iconic motion-picture director Cecil B. DeMille, had scheduled flights to Santa Catalina Island, San Diego and San Francisco. And, of course, there was that one route favored by those who wanted a legal drink or three just a little over 100 miles away during the early stages of Prohibition, hopping aboard one of those Aeromarine Airways flights to get from Key West, Florida, to Havana, Cuba.
While no matter how much yogurt we eat or how much we curtail our own drinking in our Prohibition-less times, I don’t think any of us will be seeing 3030, so I thought I’d just better take care of this column idea now.
Happy 2020, everybody, and thanks for sticking with me each week.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.